New Hampshire: Open source, open standards, open data
The U.S. state of New Hampshire just passed act HB418 (2012), which requires state agencies to consider open source software, promotes the use of open data formats, and requires the commissioner of information technology (IT) to develop an open government data policy. Slashdot has a posted discussion about it. This looks really great, and it looks like a bill that other states might want to emulate. My congrats go to Seth Cohn (the primary author) and the many others who made this happen. In this post I’ll walk through some of its key points on open source software, open standards for data formats, and open government data.
First, here’s what it says about open source software (OSS): “For all software acquisitions, each state agency… shall… Consider whether proprietary or open source software offers the most cost effective software solution for the agency, based on consideration of all associated acquisition, support, maintenance, and training costs…”. Notice that this law does not mandate that the state government must always use OSS. Instead, it simply requires government agencies to consider OSS. You’d think this would be useless, but you’d be wrong. Fairly considering OSS is still remarkably hard to do in many government agencies, so having a law or regulation clearly declare this is very valuable. Yes, closed-minded people can claim they “considered” OSS and paper over their biases, but laws like this make it easier for OSS to get a fair hearing. The law defines “open source software” (OSS) in a way consistent with its usual technical definition, indeed, this law’s definition looks a lot like the free software definition. That’s a good thing; the impact of laws and regulations is often controlled by their definitions, so having good definitions (like this one for OSS) is really important. Here’s the New Hampshire definition of OSS, which I think is a good one:
The material on open standards for data says, “The commissioner shall assist state agencies in the purchase or creation of data processing devices or systems that comply with open standards for the accessing, storing, or transferring of data…” The definition is interesting, too; it defines an “open standard” as a specification “for the encoding and transfer of computer data” that meets a long list of requirements, including that it is “Is free for all to implement and use in perpetuity, with no royalty or fee” and that it “Has no restrictions on the use of data stored in the format”. The list is actually much longer; it’s clear that the authors were trying to counter common vendor tricks who try to create “open” standards that really aren’t. I think it would have been great if they had adopted the more stringent Digistan definition of open standard, but this is still a great step forward.
Finally, it talks about open government data, e.g., it requires that “The commissioner shall develop a statewide information policy based on the following principles of open government data”. This may be one of the most important parts of the bill, because it establishes these as the open data principles:
The official motto of the U.S. state of New Hampshire is “Live Free or Die”. Looks like they truly do mean to live free.
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